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Pope says not to wait for Church 'to be perfect' at Vatican Christmas Eve mass

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Pope Francis leads the Christmas Eve mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, December 24, 2019.
Pope Francis leads the Christmas Eve mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, December 24, 2019.   -   Copyright  Guglielmo Mangiapane/ RE UTERS
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Pope Francis spoke about "unconditional" love even for "the worst of us" as he held midnight mass at the Vatican on Tuesday night as part of the traditional Christmas Eve celebrations.

"Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us, even the worst of us," the Pontiff said.

"To me, to you, to each of us, He says today: 'I love you, for you are precious in my eyes.' God does not love you because you think and act the right way. He loves you, plain and simple. His love is unconditional, it does not depend on you," Pope Francis said.

"You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you."

He asked followers not to wait for the "Church to be perfect" to "love her".

Some interpreted his words this year as an allusion to scandals within the church. The Pope announced last week that he would lift the Vatican's secrecy statute for sex abuse cases that have rocked the Church for decades.

At mass on Christmas Eve, he spoke about not waiting before loving others.

"May we not wait for our neighbours to be good before we do good for them, for the Church to be perfect, before we love her, for others to respect us before we serve them. Let us begin with ourselves," he said.

He spoke about "gratitude" and changing the world.

"We change, the Church changes, history changes. Once we stop trying to change others but try to change ourselves and to make of our life a gift," the Pope said.

"Jesus shows this to us tonight. He did not change history by pressuring anyone or by a flood of words... he didn't wait until we were good before he loved us but gave himself freely to us."

Christmas past

The ceremony in St Peter's Basilica comes a day before the Pope is due to address crowds in St Peter's Square at noon on Christmas Day.

In previous years, the Pope has used the mass to address events of the preceding year, such as in 2017 when he spoke about millions of migrants and refugees driven from their homes.

In 2018, the Pontiff highlighted global poverty, and a world in which he said: "a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive"

In this year's sermon, the Pope also called for people "not to wait for others to do well before doing good to them," and to change themselves before looking to change others, the church or the wider world.

Watch the ceremony in the viewer above.